Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modeling Years

Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modeling Years

by Astrid Franse, Michelle Morgan


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Before Marilyn tells the story of Marilyn Monroe's modelling career, during which time she was signed to the famous Blue Book Agency in Hollywood. The head of the agency, Miss Emmeline Snively, saw potential in the young woman and kept detailed records and correspondence throughout their professional relationship and beyond.

On the day of Monroe's funeral, Snively gave an interview from her office, talking about the girl she had discovered, before announcing, rather dramatically, that she was closing the lid on her Marilyn Monroe archive that day - to 'lock it away forever'.

This archive was purchased by Astrid Franse, and together with bestselling Marilyn Monroe biographer Michelle Morgan they draw on this collection of never-before-seen documents, letters and much, much more.

Before Marilyn explores an aspect of Monroe's life that has never been fully revealed - by charting every modelling job she did, and illustrating the text with rare and unpublished photographs of the young model and her mentor.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250085900
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/10/2015
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 7.60(w) x 10.50(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Astrid Franse began her career as a model, teacher and actress and has been the owner of Bennies Fifties USA collectables shop for the past thirty-five years. Fifty years after Marilyn's death, Astrid discovered that she owned a box containing Marilyn Monroe's Blue Book Model Agency Archive whilst buying items for Bennies Fifties. She bought the box without any knowledge of the contents. Two decades later, because of interest in the Marilyn collectibles, Astrid started organising the box and was stunned to discover that it once belonged to Miss Emmeline Snively, the president of the model agency. The announcement made world news and she was interviewed for television, radio, newspapers and the Internet.

Michelle Morgan is the author of Marilyn's Addresses (Smith Gryphon, 1995), Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed (Robinson, 2012), The Mammoth Book of Hollywood Scandals (Robinson, 2013), The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd (Chicago Review Press, 2015) and Madonna (Robinson/Little, Brown, 2015). Michelle has written frequently for magazines, and wrote a weekly newspaper column from 2007 to 2014. She has been interviewed on radio and television on numerous occasions, with appearances including The Alan Titchmarsh Show, The One Show, BBC National News, Sky News, and Collector's Lot.

Read an Excerpt

Before Marilyn

The Blue Book Modeling Years

By Astrid Franse, Michelle Morgan

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Astrid Franse and Michelle Morgan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-08591-7



Norma Jeane Baker never intended to be a model. Instead she had dreamt of one day becoming an actress, so that she could receive the love so desperately lacking in her childhood. Raised as an orphan, even though both parents were still alive, she was in and out of foster homes and an orphanage until she met a young man called James Dougherty. He was good-looking, sporty and thought of himself as something of a knight in shining armour. She was 15, pretty, scared and desperately looking for a way to avoid another stint in an orphanage. After prompting by her foster mother and future mother-in-law, Norma Jeane reluctantly agreed to marry Dougherty, just weeks after her 16th birthday, and became a teenage housewife.

By 1944 Dougherty had joined the Merchant Marines and Norma Jeane moved in with her in-laws. She found a job at a local defence plant, where she worked first in the typing pool and then on the factory floor, spraying parachutes. The mixture that went into the spray played havoc with the young girl's hair, and she went home each day completely exhausted. She hated the job; she disliked living with her in-laws, but it was wartime and she saw no means of escape. In the end, however, escape found her.

Working for the US government, photographer David Conover found himself visiting the factory to take photos of women working during the war. Spotting Norma Jeane working feverishly at her post, he asked where in the hell she had been hiding, and after explaining that she had just returned from visiting her foster parents, Conover asked if he could take her picture. She whole-heartedly agreed. At that point it seems as though Norma Jeane had been moved from spraying parachutes onto a slightly less dirty job, and the photos taken of her in those next few minutes surely must go down in history as some of the most important.

Wearing a green shirt, grey slacks and her wedding ring, along with a name card firmly attached to her waist band, Norma Jeane posed for Conover, with a broad smile firmly on her face. When she later wrote to her foster aunt Grace, she told her that some of the photographers at the factory that day had also taken moving pictures of her and asked for dates. The girl who had otherwise lived a humdrum, and at times loveless, life must surely have been thrilled by the attention, but she turned down the requests to go out with the photographers. Instead, Norma Jeane concentrated on Conover's professional interest and changed into a red sweater before posing for several more photographs, this time outside the factory environment. Whilst snapping her picture, he asked if she had ever considered modelling. Norma Jeane laughed and assured him that she had not.

David Conover was so impressed with the young factory worker that he returned to her workplace several times to take more shots. Then one morning he called to say that the photos had been developed and had turned out very successfully. Apparently workers at the Eastman Kodak Company asked him, 'Who's your model for goodness sake?' This news pleased Norma Jeane, who remembered the story over ten years later during an interview for the Bombay Screen magazine:

I began to think that maybe he wasn't kidding about how I ought to be a model. Then I found that a girl could make five dollars an hour modelling which was different from working ten hours a day for the kind of money I'd been making at the plane plant.

Conover asked if Norma Jeane would like to travel around Southern California with him; the idea being that she could pose for photographs and learn the correct way to hold herself in front of a camera. She told him she would be happy to go, and after her husband had finished a home visit and returned to the forces, Norma Jeane and Conover put their plans to work. For the next two weeks he snapped her wearing various outfits, including white hot pants teamed with a striped T-shirt, a sweater and a blouse.

While this was the first proper photographic session she had ever taken part in, Norma Jeane was actually no stranger to being in front of a camera and had posed for family and friends on several occasions in the years leading up to the Conover sessions. Her family and friends snapped her standing in front of cars, lying in the grass outside her home and hanging out with teenage pals. She had even been caught on moving camera, strutting confidently on the front lawn while wearing a relative's new fur coat. There was no doubt that from a very early age, Norma Jeane loved the camera and it loved her right back. The time spent on these amateur modelling sessions seem to have put her in good stead, and the Conover photos taken during the first half of 1945 show a young woman poised, professional and, most of all, happy.

'Norma Jeane loved the camera and it loved her right back'

David Conover enjoyed working with Norma Jeane and told his friend Potter Hueth all about her. According to Miss Snively, the former introduced Norma Jeane to the latter with the following words, 'Here's a cute girl who photographs very well. Maybe you can get some work for her.' Hueth liked what he saw, and before long Norma Jeane had posed for him wearing a distinctive striped bikini, which she would also wear later whilst modelling for several photographers, including Joseph Jasgur and Bruno Bernard. Hueth photographed her sitting on a hay bale, which almost landed her in trouble with her husband, who was home at the time. The story goes that while sitting in the barn that day, the young model was asked to remove her wedding ring so that it didn't appear on any of the photos. She did, and accidentally put it down in the hay. By the time the end of the shoot came, the ring was nowhere to be found, and Norma Jeane was forced to search through the barn for it. She did not find it at first but luckily discovered it during a second look the next morning.

Through her association with Hueth and Conover, Norma Jeane came into contact with several other photographers, such as Bob Farr and Paul Parry. Both men liked her girl-next-door look but had trouble selling her photographs to magazine editors, who believed she was 'too natural'. Parry later told reporter Jim Henaghan about his first memory of Norma Jeane:

I was sitting in my office chinning with a couple of other fellows one day, when this girl came in and asked if I thought she could be a model. I'll never forget it because she was wearing a pink sweater – and the other two fellows just fell right off their chairs. Could she!

One of Parry's photographs eventually led to a calendar advertising Mission Orange Drink, which was published in 1952, after Norma Jeane had become a star. One that appeared much sooner, however, came when she teamed up with William Carroll, a photographer looking for a young model to appear on counter displays to advertise his Ansco Color film processing shop. Norma Jeane liked the idea and headed to the beach with Carroll, where a variety of colour shots were taken.

Back at home, the young woman continued to resent being married at such an early age and most certainly did not like having to live under the scrutiny of her husband's family while he was away. Although James Dougherty said initially that he approved of the modelling work – thinking it far easier than working in the factory – he also made it especially clear that he would only tolerate it until he returned from war. After that he was determined that the two would settle down to a normal life with a house and children like every other 'normal' couple. His parents were of the opinion that this should happen too, but they could also see that this was not something on Norma Jeane's mind. As a result, they quickly became worried for their son's future.

At this point, it would seem that she was being faithful to Dougherty, and remained so for some time after becoming a model. Sister-in-law Elyda Nelson later recalled that while Norma Jeane was aware that other wives dated while their men were away, she never commented or gossiped about such things and instead just ignored the activity and got on with her own life. Norma Jeane later backed this up when talking about her own experience of dealing with unwanted male attention:

I didn't have much trouble brushing them off. I found that if I just looked sort of stupid, or pretended I didn't know what they were talking about, they soon gave up in disgust. Some wolves are sinister, others are just good time Charlies trying to get something for nothing. Others make a game of it. The last type is most interesting.

Her attitude towards the wolves of Hollywood was also demonstrated when William Carroll initially rang to introduce himself before their photograph session. She refused to have anything to do with him, until he assured her that he was a professional, known to Conover and Hueth, and interested in taking her photo, nothing else. Bill Burnside, who met her in 1946, had the same kind of experience: 'Physically she was wary of men and was wary of me for the first months of our knowing each other.'

Despite this, Norma Jeane's in-laws continued to worry about her future as a married woman. While she had worked at the munitions factory the family had trusted her completely, possibly because mother-in-law Ethel worked there too and could keep an eye on her, but also because the men there were considered 'ordinary Joes' who could be brushed off without a moment's thought. Everyone recognised how beautiful she was, however, and at one point, Norma Jeane was even crowned 'Queen of the Radio Plane Picnic' during a company outing. The family had been happy with the achievement, but now everything had changed and her in-laws were more than a little concerned.

In hindsight, it is easy to understand why the family were concerned about Norma Jeane's new-found interest, especially when it came to going around town with various photographers that were not known to the family. Most of those who worked in Hollywood were gentlemen, as confirmed by fellow starlet and model Annabelle Stanford. She insists that no matter what she was modelling – whether it be negligees, swimming costumes or underwear – there were never any passes made towards her and everyone conducted themselves in a professional, decent manner. However, there were certainly several photographers who were known in the industry as being less than perfect or discreet, and the models saw to it that they were always on guard in their presence. One such man was known to some of the women as 'a pig' because of his uncouth behaviour, and he often became so aroused by the bikini-clad girls in his presence that his physical excitement could not be disguised.

In 1940's Hollywood there was also the issue of the casting couch, which could become a big problem for any girl wishing to turn their modelling careers into acting ones. This is apparent with the story of one model, who arrived at a film studio only to find herself being shuttled towards a bed, discreetly kept in a room joined to the casting director's office. Calling her 'Cutie Pie', the man tried to convince the young woman that if she slept with him, he would ensure she got acting jobs every single day of her career. She was married and told him very firmly that if he forced her into doing such a thing, she would detest him forever and never be anything but an enemy to him. Astonishingly, the director became very embarrassed by her response. 'I have never been told off so politely,' he told her, and vowed never to try it on with her again. Surprisingly, he cast her in a movie anyway, and he kept his promise of keeping his hands to himself.

Although she was still new to the modelling game, Norma Jeane quickly became aware of what went on behind closed doors in some of the studios – both photographic and movie. She was so determined not to get herself into a sticky situation that she would often drive herself to and from modelling appointments in her husband's car. That way she would not fall into the trap of a photographer insisting on giving her a lift home after the shoot and taking his chances in a quiet, deserted lane. 'She would hold up her key ring, jingle it and say cutely, "I've got my own transportation",' Miss Snively later wrote.

This still didn't please her in-laws, however, and things came to a head one evening when Norma Jeane was driving home from a modelling job and, by her own admission, was 'dreaming again'. Before she knew it, a car appeared in front of her and she was unable to stop, crashing head-on into the vehicle and writing off Jim's car in the process. 'All I have is a small bump on the head,' she told her sister-in-law, 'But you should see our poor car, it's completely demolished.'

It would seem that the car incident was the beginning of the end between Norma Jeane and the Dougherty family because, not long after, she decided enough was enough and moved into the home of former foster parent 'Aunt' Ana Lower. This was a huge step. Not only did she now have some kind of independence, but she knew that by distancing herself from her in-laws the gap between herself and James Dougherty would be widened too. The long-distance marriage would struggle on for another year, but the end was most certainly looming.

While modelling might have caused problems between Norma Jeane and her husband's family, she was still determined that it would be her key to a better future for herself. Here was a child who had rarely felt loved before, though the camera seemed to adore her. The happiness is clear to imagine, even though there were many times when Norma Jeane had to work initially for free. The reason for this was that if the photographer could not sell his work, then he would not be paid, and in turn she wouldn't be either.

Norma Jeane had first agreed to work this way with photographer Potter Hueth, doing what Miss Snively described as 'Speculation, Unassigned'. However, after a time she began to think seriously about her future, and so spoke to Hueth about what she could do to make her career all the more successful and worthwhile. He told Norma Jeane about an agency located in the Ambassador Hotel that was always on the lookout for girls with a talent before the camera. She liked what she heard, and in early August 1945 she travelled with Hueth from her home in West Los Angeles all the way to Wilshire Boulevard so that she could be introduced to Miss Emmeline Snively, owner of the Blue Book Modelling Agency.



Emmeline Snively was born on 2 May 1909 to Myrtle and Frank Snively. An only child, she spent much of her childhood in Ohio and Iowa, where her father worked in newspaper advertising. By 1930 Frank had passed away and Myrtle and Emmeline were trying their luck in Los Angeles: Mrs Snively as a boarding house manager and her daughter as an art student at Holmby College and later UCLA. Photos taken during her time at college show Miss Snively as a delicate-featured young woman, often unsmiling and somewhat serious. Still, her skill and poise in front of a camera is everywhere apparent, and this expertise was to come in very useful in the years ahead.

After graduating in 1934, Miss Snively began teaching art, but over the course of several years she became more interested in the other jobs Hollywood had to offer. An intelligent woman, she could see that there was a large amount of young people desperate to get past the studio gates to seek fame and fortune – in all likelihood she probably saw examples of this every day during her classes. Miss Snively's mind began to wander, and, after much thought, she took the brave decision to leave the sensible land of teaching behind and go into the trickier – but more lucrative – modelling world.

Unlike most young women interested in the profession, Miss Snively wasn't planning to pose for photographers herself. Instead she decided that there was a real need and gap in the market for a model school, a place to show girls how they too could make a living in the industry. In the late 1930s she found an ideal space in Westwood Village and launched her agency as the Village School. '[I] specialized in training girls for photographic and fashion modelling,' she later wrote in her brochure. 'Graduates have progressed into many fields of fashion, photography and entertainment ... Many have been claimed by the Motion Picture Studios.'

Very soon Miss Snively began enrolling young women onto her 'Blue Book': a catalogue she published every year that featured models available for hire. She also started teaching them everything they could ever wish to know about the finer points of modelling. 'The school offers a non-professional course featuring charm, posture, figure control, wardrobe building and personal development,' she wrote.

By the early 1940s Miss Snively had moved her establishment into a building on Sunset Boulevard, next door to the famous Bublichki restaurant. While there, she found a way of publicising the business in the shape of beauty contests to find Miss May, Miss Summer and any other Miss she could think of. One lady who won Miss November 1943 was Frances Adolf, an 18 year old who took great delight in showing off her large trophy while talking about her budding law career. Another lucky winner was 19-year-old Tyra Vaughn, who won the Miss Spring 1944 competition and posed happily for reporters, who dubbed her a press agent's dream.


Excerpted from Before Marilyn by Astrid Franse, Michelle Morgan. Copyright © 2015 Astrid Franse and Michelle Morgan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Foreword by Greg Schreiner,
Authors' Note,
one Speculation, Unassigned,
two No. 37, Casino Floor,
three Fame Has a Way,
four Cross My Heart I Did,
five Who is the Girl on Laff?,
six Mmmmarilyn Mmmmonroe,
seven There's No Business Like Show Business,
eight And So It Was,
About the Authors,

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